"Can there be a science of human potential and the good life?"

Despite monumental advances in brain and behavioral sciences, nothing like a science of human potential and the good life has yet emerged. This seems ironic in an age of unprecedented wealth, yet one that also has chronically high levels of stress and life dissatisfaction.

My hunch is that there's not yet a science of human potential and the good life because such concerns are only just now moving from the realm of humanistic thinking to ones being informed by science. Much of my research lies at the interface between humanities and brain science, as my collaborators and I address basic issues regarding how enduring questions about the quality of human life can be informed by brain science.

In my primary research, I ask, what is the neural basis of human intelligence, and how can our understanding of brain development and plasticity be used to construct more effective learning environments? With Gabrielle Starr, an English professor at NYU and Anne Hamker here at Caltech, we are asking, what is the brain basis of aesthetic experience, and how can such an understanding be used to deepen our emotional life? With Michael Dobry, co-director of the graduate industrial design program at the Art Center College of Design, we are asking, what is the relation between design and the brain, and how can the design of daily life be more in line with the brain's capacities?

Ultimately, a science of human potential and of the good life must help explain how these human capacities can be actualized in contexts that confer significance and dignity to individual life.

Steven R. Quartz is Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.